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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 13th Aug 2019 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Dishoom has paid £15.5m in dividends since 2017: Indian restaurant Dishoom has paid £8m in dividends to shareholders in the most recent 18 months – the most recent £5m was paid at the end of May 2019. The dividend payments follow a payout of £7.5m in 2017, bringing dividend payments to £15.5m since the start of 2017. Newly filed accounts show Dishoom had £13.3m of retained earnings at the end of 2018. The company also made payments of  £183,000 in charitable donations in the year to 30 December 2018 – following on from £137,000 the year before. The company reported it reached the milestone of donating five million meals through its partner charities to feed children in the UK and India who might otherwise have gone hungry. Dishoom saw turnover rise 26.3% to £44.98m in the year to 30 December 2018, with growth coming from new and existing restaurants. Adjusted Ebitda was £4.33m (2017: £2.25m). Profit before tax was £2.28m (2017: £870,000). The company agreed a £5m three-year facility with Barclays in May this year. Adjusted Ebitda margin was 9.6%, compared with 6.3% the year before. Dishoom’s directors are Shamil and Kavi Thakrar. Speaking to Propel as part of an exclusive interview for Propel Quarterly magazine, which will be published in early September, Shamil Thakrar said: “The idea of a traditional chain has negative connotations to us. The point of it must be to leverage economics but we’ve chosen to do the opposite. Each site we’ve opened is built around a story, a narrative. We’ve certainly not leveraged any scale economics. The bottleneck on growth is quality. We make sure we enhance the food and the team and, if we grow, then good. At Covent Garden we were looking at profitability but thought if we focused on awesome food and drinks as well as a happy team, the revenues and profits would come along as long as we controlled costs.” One unit that proved irresistible was the former Jamie’s Italian next door to Dishoom’s debut Covent Garden site, which will enable the creation of a sizeable Dishoom flagship following a major redesign of the combined property. Kavi Thakrar said: “The opportunity came up and next year will be our tenth anniversary so it will be nice to be able to do it over. It will be a good project.”

Industry News:

Beverage inflation pushes Foodservice Price Index to new record high: The CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index recorded a colossal 21.6% year-on-year increase in its non-alcoholic beverage categories in June – taking the overall measure to its highest index point to date. Inflation in the mineral water, soft drinks and juice category has risen since September 2018 and shows no sign of slowing. It follows a swing in drinking habits that has seen adult soft drinks become one of the UK’s fastest-growing beverage categories, with one in five adults choosing not to drink alcohol and its sales up 15.4% in five years. An explosion of new lines with refined flavour profiles and innovative packaging has led to premiumisation in the category and subsequent high levels of inflation. By contrast, some food categories of the Foodservice Price Index recorded only small increases in inflation in June. Contrary to the traditional seasonal drop, fruit was one of the few food categories to see month-on-month inflation. Continued issues in recruiting fruit pickers in the UK have resulted in lower yields, forcing wholesalers to import more from European countries including Italy and Spain which, with the pound performing poorly against the euro, has led to price inflation. “Foodservice price inflation over the next few months is likely to be affected by Brexit and fears are mounting a no-deal departure from the European Union could have a catastrophic effect on UK food supply,” said Prestige Purchasing chief executive Shaun Allen. “Meat could be an especially volatile category, with the National Farmers Union recently declaring it could result in the mass slaughter of lambs as the UK cannot consume the amount it produces.”

Evening diners the ‘hardest to please’: Evening diners are the hardest to please, according to data from guest feedback service Feed It Back. The statistics, which track customer satisfaction scores across the breakfast, lunch and dinner dayparts, revealed the overall satisfaction score of customers is lowest in the evening (90.8%), followed by lunch (92.4%) and breakfast (93.0%). The satisfaction scores are created by aggregating elements tracked in every guest satisfaction survey by Feed It Back, which give businesses a score out of five across six key metrics – food, drink, cleanliness, atmosphere, service and value. Guests were particularly critical of the evening daypart when it came to “atmosphere” and “value”, which scored 4.5 and 4.4 respectively. Loud music featured prominently on negative review scores. Conversely, the atmosphere score during lunch was positively driven by the word “quiet”, with 11% of respondents giving a positive rating when referencing this. Another key theme for lunch was speed of service, with many respondents specifically mentioning the word “quick” in a positive review. Feed It Back chief executive Carlo Platia said: “The data shows customers’ expectations are greater during the evening, with previous research indicating the majority of special occasion bookings such as anniversaries or birthdays taking place at this time. With this in mind, it’s crucial operators act on the feedback and tweak elements of their offer or provide additional training so they can positively influence the customer experience. Often subtle changes to the customer journey, such as turning down the volume of the music a few notches, can have a fundamental impact on whether customers return.”

Campaign group calls on chancellor to ‘stop penalising wine drinkers’: Campaign group Wine Drinkers UK is calling on the new chancellor to “stop penalising wine drinkers in favour of other drinkers” at the next Budget. A YouGov survey of more than 2,000 consumers revealed that among adults who drank alcohol in the past 12 months, wine was drunk by more than four-fifths (81%), beating beer and spirits (both 79%) to top spot. More than one-quarter (28%) of respondents chose wine as their number-one tipple, compared with 23% who chose beer and 20% who opted for spirits. However, tax rises on wine in the past decade (39%) have outstripped those on beer (16%) and spirits (27%). The last chancellor to cut still wine duty was Nigel Lawson 35 years ago. The findings were revealed on Wine Tax Freedom Day, which falls 61% of the way through the year to reflect the fact 61% of a £5 bottle of wine consists of tax. This year, consumers have already spent about £2.1bn on wine taxation – the most tax paid on wine by any country in Europe. Writer and presenter Helena Nicklin, who is backing the Cut Back Wine Tax campaign, said: “As the number of people enjoying wine grows, so does their tax bill. Duty on wine has risen more than twice as fast as beer over the past ten years. As a result, the majority of wine drinkers are handing over more than 50 pence in every pound they spend to the taxman. After a decade of unfair increases, it is time to cut them a break and cut wine tax.”

Casual Dining Group calls for industry collaboration as it commits to sourcing higher-welfare chicken: Casual Dining Group (CDG) has signed up to the European Chicken Commitment, which requires companies to commit to key standards by 2026 around slower-growing chicken breeds, reduced stock density, environmental enrichment, natural light and humane slaughtering processes. CDG has called for sector companies with similar supply chains to work with them to achieve the commitment’s aims and share best practice. As the first step, CDG and Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) aim to host a working group to develop a five-year action plan. CDG group procurement director Simon Galkoff said: “The decision to sign this agreement was not something we took lightly and we have conducted significant due diligence and research with CIWF to ensure we’re comfortable plans are in place to meet the requirements of the commitment. The key to achieving this will be working together as an industry to share best practice and achieve a common goal. We’re looking forward to being part of this industry collaboration.” 

UK’s least expensive Michelin-starred restaurant offers three courses for £23: Leroy, the Hackney wine bar and restaurant launched by Ellory owners Jack Lewens and Ed Thaw, is the least expensive Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK, according to a study by Kitchen Knives. The venue offers three courses for £23. The second cheapest is also in London – French restaurant The Ninth in Fitzrovia – where three courses can cost £24.80. The most expensive restaurant on the list is The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, where diners pay £325 for a set menu. The rest of the top ten least expensive Michelin-starred restaurants are Brat in Hackney (£26), St John in Clerkenwell (£29.10), Kitchen W8 in Kensington (£29.50), The Pipe and Glass in Beverley (£31.50), The White Swan in Fence in Lancashire (£32), Trishna in Marylebone (£32), The Elephant in Torquay (£33) and River Cafe in Hammersmith (£34). Lewens and Thaw launched Leroy in March 2018 after closing Michelin-starred Ellory in Mare Street, Hackney, earlier that month. 

London hotel market hits record revpar and average daily rate levels for July: The London hotel market saw year-on-year rises in revpar and average daily rate in July, according to the latest data from STR. Revpar rose 2.4% to £159.30, while average daily rate increased 3.3% to £176.07. The levels are the highest for any July in STR’s London database. Supply and demand also saw year-on-year increases during the month – of 1.5% and 0.6% respectively. However, occupancy levels fell 0.9% year-on-year during July to 90.5%. STR analysts noted Wimbledon fortnight (1 to 14 July) helped push performance levels and, while overall occupancy was down slightly for the month, London saw 20 nights with occupancy above 90%. 

Company News: 

Boxpark hires advisers to help with expansion: Boxpark has hired KPMG Corporate Finance to find an investment partner to support its expansion. The company has sites in Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley. Boxpark has previously unveiled plans to expand nationwide with a further ten sites during the next five years. The expansion will also see the launch of two new concepts – BoxOffice and BoxHall. BoxOffice is a co-working space that will be incorporated into new Boxpark sites. The Boxpark and BoxOffice schemes will be between 50,000 and 150,000 square feet. The developments will feature the traditional Boxpark street food and bars on the ground floor with leisure operators such as virtual reality, cinemas, crazy golf and karaoke on the first floor and between two to four floors of co-working space above. Boxpark will work alongside existing co-working companies on the launch and operation of the new BoxOffice concept. In addition, Boxpark will roll out new food hall concept BoxHall. The smaller, 10,000 to 20,000 square foot food and beverage destinations will be based on existing sites within city centres across the UK, featuring between six and 12 street food vendors at each site.

Laine makes two key hires for brewing company: Laine, the Brighton-based pub and brewing company backed by Patron Capital, has made two senior appointments in its fast-growing Laine Brew Co beer business. Appointed to the role of Brewmaster is Ciaran Giblin, who joins from Asahi, where he spent three years as brewmaster for Meantime and where he most recently managed Griffin Brewery following Asahi’s acquisition of Fuller’s beer business. Giblin takes charge of all beer production at Laine Brew Co, which includes managing the company’s micro-breweries in Brighton, Clapham and Hackney and its 50HL production brewery in the South Downs. Joining as sales director is Matthew McAloone, who has worked in senior sales roles at a number of leading UK brewers including Meantime, Hop Stuff and Charles Wells. McAloone will build a UK-wide team to support the company’s rapidly expanding account base. Jack Hibberd, who heads up Laine Brew Co, said: “I am delighted Matthew and Ciaran have chosen to join us. Their skills, experience and attitudes fit perfectly with the aspirations of our exciting and rapidly growing craft beer business and I believe the difference they will make will be felt immediately throughout everything we do.” Laine chief executive Gavin George added: “The rapid growth in volume of Laine beer brands such as Source Pale Ale, Ripper IPA and the award-winning Mangolicious in some of the most prestigious on-trade accounts in the UK has been pleasing. We believe Ciaran and Matthew will help us cement our reputation for creating beer of great quality, flavour and consistency and will provide the very best support to all our customers.” 

Agent Christie & Co completes sale of Jamie’s Italian sites: Property agent Christie & Co has completed the sale of the final restaurant disposal from the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group on behalf of the joint administrators. Will Wright and Mark Orton, from KPMG’s restructuring practice, were appointed joint administrators in May to the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group Limited and its subsidiaries Jamie’s Italian Limited, Jamie’s Italian Holdings Limited, One New Change Limited and Fifteen Restaurant Limited. Christie & Co was tasked with bringing 20 sites to market around the UK, from Glasgow to Brighton, with seven sites in London. Simon Chaplin, senior director at Christie & Co, said: “Many of these sites were in prime locations within key towns and cities, which helped attract a wide variety of operators and bids. We are therefore pleased to have achieved a positive outcome for the joint administrators.”

Pub People Company takes eighth Star Pubs and Bars site: The Pub People Company, led by Kevin Sammons, has taken on its eighth Star Pubs & Bars site, Keoghs in Nottingham city centre. A £258,000 joint refurbishment will start on Monday, 19 August to transform it into its second Six Barrel Drafthouse, a craft beer and draught ale pub offering food and coffee. The Pub People Company plans to open more Six Barrel Drafthouses in major towns and cities across the East Midlands during the next three years. The renamed pub will reopen in mid-September with ten jobs created. Major changes to the outside of the Six Barrel Drafthouse will include the creation of a first-floor terrace overlooking the city. Six Barrel Drafthouse will close at midnight in the week and at 1am on Fridays and Saturdays. It will serve six craft beers and six cask ales on a rotational basis including an ale from nearby Pentrich brewery plus premium lager such as Amstel and Birra Moretti and extensive gin and rum ranges. Andy Crawford, operations director for The Pub People Company, said: “We opened our first Six Barrel Drafthouse in Hockley in 2016 and it has proved very successful. As a result, we’re keen to roll it out where the local demographics and individual pubs lend themselves to the concept. Star Pubs & Bars is flexible and responsive so we intend taking on more sites with them.”

The Country Pub Group buys two Flatcappers sites: The Country Pub Group, owned by young hospitality entrepreneur Matthew Lowe, has purchased two pubs previously owned by Flatcappers – The Battleaxes in Wraxall and The Castle Inn in Bradford-on-Avon. The Country Pub Group currently owns and runs The Mendip Inn in Shepton Mallet. The group will focus on providing consistently high-quality food, drink and accommodation. Lowe said: “We are excited to have purchased two venues that align with our group vision and feature guest accommodation that’s in line with The Mendip Inn’s latest addition – recently refurbished character bedrooms. Quality, simplicity and beautiful dishes are the foundation on which the Country Pub kitchens work. We will focus on providing great service and even better food in all three venues. Expect salmon cured in-house, butcher’s choice meat and the tastiest vegetables. Fresh fish and unusual cuts of meat will feature prominently on our specials boards and our head chef will create a constantly changing menu in tandem with the seasons.” Former Flatcappers operations manager Tony De Brito is remaining with the pubs and will head up the operations for The Country Pub Group. Mike Osborne, business advisor at The Fabulous Group, which has supported Lowe through the development of the existing site and subsequent purchases, said: “The Country Pub Group has seen brilliant success at The Mendip Inn through concentrating on service and quality in all three offerings – food, drink and accommodation. These new venues are a great strategic fit with the concept on which The Country Pub Group will grow over the coming years.”

Edinburgh site housing BrewDog and Mitchells & Butlers’ All Bar One sold for reported £54m: The investment arm of Sir David Murray’s family has sold the Exchange Plaza in the heart of Edinburgh’s financial district for a reported £54m. The former Rangers owner’s Murray Capital group sold the complex to M&G Real Estate, which has several investments in Edinburgh, most notably part of the four-acre mixed-use Haymarket development and 40 Torphichen Street, a 57,000 square foot office development. The move is seen as good news in Edinburgh’s commercial property sector, justifying the initial Murray investment in 2006 and confirming the capital’s offices and other city centre developments are much sought after. Exchange Plaza hosts the offices of Cairn Energy and Artemis as well as BrewDog and Mitchells & Butlers brand All Bar One.

McDonald’s UK boss – our paper straws will be recyclable soon: McDonald’s UK boss Paul Pomroy has insisted the company’s new paper straws will be “recyclable soon”. He said: “Paper straws weren’t widely available until recently and we’ve worked hard with our suppliers to introduce them at scale and quickly. Our straws are recyclable but one of the final pieces of the jigsaw is having the external infrastructure and facilities to actually recycle them. We are not the only business in this position. It is a challenge we believe many in the industry face. Last year our customers asked us to change our plastic straws to paper ones, so we listened and made that switch. As a dad of two boys I am extremely passionate about the role we have to play now and for future generations. Our recycling credentials are as good or better than anyone else. We are going to change the McFlurry packaging.” Plastic lids on ice creams will be replaced with new packaging from next month, reducing waste by 383 metric tonnes a year. Salads have been put into 100% recyclable cardboard boxes instead of plastic containers. “I have been in retail for 22 years and this is the toughest trading period we have had,” Pomroy said. “It is not just Brexit – you have a perfect storm in the food sector. Last year we had 7% food inflation, partly because of the pound and partly because of the weather. Antisocial behaviour is an issue on some high streets and it is worse during the day than the night, with groups of kids round school-leaving time. We might change the music and play opera softly to deter them.”

Freehold of Starbucks drive-thru in Wales sells for £1.15m: Savills, on behalf of MVJ Capital, has sold a Starbucks drive-thru in Swansea to a private buyer for £1.15m, representing a net initial yield of 5.34%. The unit is let to Magic Bean Co and trades as a 24-hour Starbucks drive-thru. The unit was built in 2015 just off Fabian Way, one of the main arterial routes into Swansea. Ross Griffin, investment director at Savills Cardiff, said: “We are pleased to have sold the Starbucks in Fabian Way on behalf of our client, in line with its ongoing investment strategy.” Matthew Pearcey, of MVJ Capital, added: “We have owned this asset since development but the current strength in the drive-thru investment market gave us a one-off opportunity to exit at an attractive level.”

Wrap it Up! to start India expansion this month: Healthy eating chain Wrap it Up! is to start expansion in India by opening a site in Gurugram in the northern state of Haryana this month. The company, which also operates an international site in Lahore, Pakistan, teamed up with FranGlobal to make its entry into India via an opening at the Central Plaza Mall in Gurugram in April. The new 651 square foot restaurant will also open at Gurugram, at the Elements One Mall, with plans to open up to 200 outlets in India during the next five years. Gargi Aggarwal, master franchisee of Wrap it Up! for the Delhi NCR region, who is operating both Indian venues, said: “The store will provide a refreshing alternative to other casual dining brands in the area and I have no doubt locals will love our delicious and international menu!” Wrap It Up! managing director Tayub Mushtaq added: “India has proven year-on-year to be a rapidly growing food delivery market, seeing growth at around 15% each quarter in 2018, and we’re excited to see how our new store can ride this impressive wave of growth in the country. We have an ambitious business plan for India and hope to penetrate multiple cities soon.” Wrap It Up! was founded in 2006 and has 14 sites in London and two in Manchester. 

Fine dining chef to launch third site for Dough & Co pizza concept: Chris Sharman, who worked as a fine-dining chef under Marco Pierre White, is to launch a third site for his pizza concept Dough & Co. Sharman is set to revive a former McDonald’s unit in the Anchor Street leisure complex in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. Sharman opened the first Dough & Co in Sudbury, Suffolk, in July 2018 followed by a restaurant in Colchester in December. The 80-cover Bishop’s Stortford restaurant is set to open on Saturday, 14 September and will feature an open kitchen and employ 20 staff. The brand offers authentic pizza with an “English twist” alongside a short pasta menu. The Anchor Street site will also feature the company’s trademark furniture made from recycled wooden pallets. Sharman plans to open 50 Dough & Co sites in the next five years. When the Anchor Street leisure complex opened in 2000, McDonald’s set up shop alongside Cineworld, Cannons Health Club, PB Bowl, KFC and Chicago Rock Bar & Diner. No original tenant remains. McDonald’s shut in 2010 and was eventually replaced by the short-lived Zest diner, Bishop’s Stortford Independent reports.

Birmingham hotel sells off £33m guide price: The Holiday Inn Birmingham Airport – NEC has been sold off a guide price of £33m. JLL advised Crest Hotels on the sale of the 241-bedroom hotel to 11 Hospitality. The hotel offers on-site parking, 14 meeting and conference rooms, leisure facilities and Marco’s restaurant and bar. The hotel will continue to operate subject to a franchise agreement with InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) under the Holiday Inn brand. Gavin Wright, director, hotels and hospitality at JLL, said: “We are thrilled to have completed on this high-profile sale. The Holiday Inn has benefited from significant investment and development since Crest Hotels acquired it in 2005. Birmingham offers strong investment opportunities, supported by the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in 2022 and the high-speed rail link HS2 scheduled for 2026. This represents the largest single-asset sale in the region during 2019 and follows our recent sale of the Hilton Garden Inn, Birmingham Airport in 2018.”

Arc Inspirations to open Harrogate Manahatta next month: Arc Inspirations, led by Martin Wolstencroft, is to open a Manahatta site in Harrogate next month following a £400,000 investment. The Manahatta bar will be located off Parliament Street in a site currently occupied by The Pit. About 40 jobs ranging from door staff to management will be created when the venue opens on Friday, 6 September. Wolstencroft said: “We are thrilled to bring the beat of New York to Harrogate and can’t wait to unveil the finished results.”

Dirty Burgerz doubles up in Bristol for third UK site: Bristol-based burger brand Dirty Burgerz has opened its second site in the city and third in total. The brand opened its debut permanent site in Staple Hill before adding a second in Swansea. Now it has returned to Bristol to launch a venue in Stokes Croft. Founder Chris Davis told Bristol Live: “The Stokes Croft area is so buzzing and vibrant it seemed like the perfect place for us to open. We have made sure our decor fits in with the area and, of course, we’ll also keep our customer service high, as that’s key for us. There are lots of restaurants in Stokes Croft but none that do good burgers so we think we’re going to be really popular, especially when the students come back in September.” 

Goodbody – July was another good month for restaurants: Leisure analysts at broker Goodbody have described July as another good month for restaurants. In a note, they stated: “CGA has released its Coffer Peach Business Tracker for July. Overall like-for-like sales growth was 1.2% in July with pubs negative by 0.2% and restaurants showing another good month at 3.8% (was 6.1% in June). Total sales growth including new space was 3.6% with pubs 2.9% and restaurants 4.1%. The regions slightly outperformed London (1.3% versus 1%). On a rolling 12-month basis, like-for-like sales growth was running at 1.8% for the 12 months to the end of July versus 1.6% at the end of June. Overall, July was again heavily influenced by the prior-year comparatives (World Cup and hot weather), when the wet-led pub groups showed very strong sales growth and restaurants declined (July 2018 pubs +2.7% and restaurants minus 4.8%). This, however, marks a good month of growth for restaurants and it will be very interesting to assess how they perform in August when comparatives normalise. We have been noting for some time there are early indications of a more balanced supply-demand environment, which should be helpful, albeit the cost inflationary environment remains highly challenging. We retain Mitchells & Butlers and The Restaurant Group as our two top picks in the sector.”

Seven Bro7hers to launch second beer house: Seven Bro7hers is to launch its second beer house as it becomes the first major retailer to sign up to the Middlewood Locks development in Manchester. Opening in October, the venue will include a 100-cover restaurant serving home-cooked dishes and bar snacks. The venue will follow on from the Salford-based brewery’s flagship Ancoats Beerhouse. Keith McAvoy, of Seven Bro7hers, said: “We are very passionate about not only making great beer but also creating communities where everyone is welcome. We’ve been working closely with Get Living on the design of Seven Bro7hers Middlewood Locks to ensure it becomes a place for residents to come down and enjoy a drink with their friends and neighbours as well as a space to host events for the wider community.” Get Living launched the first 275 homes for rent at the New Maker Yards scheme in Middlewood Locks this summer, with general manager at the site Kim Quickfall adding: “Get Living’s approach to creating brilliant big city neighbourhoods is to work with local and independent businesses that can help foster a sense of community. Knowing this is the key ingredient for Seven Bro7hers’ brewing, we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them to Middlewood Locks this autumn.”

YO! extends Tesco trial to Lincoln: YO!, the global multi-brand, multi-channel Japanese food group, is to extend its YO! To Go trial with Tesco by launching a counter at the retail giant’s store in Lincoln. A Tesco spokesman told Lincolnshire Live: “We are always keen to offer a wide range of the best services for our customers and look forward to the opening of a YO! Sushi in our store in Wragby Road in the coming months.” Late last year, YO! agreed a deal with Tesco to pilot YO! To Go counters at two UK stores – in Surrey and Bournemouth. At the end of July, YO! reported total sales from Bento, YO! UK and seven months of Taiko were up 69.6% to £152.5m for the year ended 27 November 2018, compared with £89.9m the previous year. Group system sales stood at £201.2m. Group adjusted Ebitda was up 47% to £12.5m. The company stated at the time: “A pilot was launched with Tesco for YO! manned kiosks in two sites creating made to order sushi. The trial has been very successful and is expected to roll out in the near future.” Meanwhile, YO! Sushi will open a restaurant in Bath this autumn. The venue will launch at vaults 1-3 in Brunel Square after the brand closed its restaurant in Milsom Place in the city in October. 

Edinburgh-based chef patron to open second restaurant: Stuart Ralston, chef patron of Edinburgh’s Aizle restaurant, is to open his second restaurant in the city, in New Town this week. Noto will launch in Thistle Street offering all-day casual dining inspired by the cuisine Ralston experienced in New York. Noto is named after renowned New York eccentric Bob Noto, who took Stuart under his wing when he arrived in the city to work for Gordon Ramsay, introducing him to its restaurant scene. The menu will feature a strong Asian influence, with daily specials and brunch options and a la carte dining from late morning on Wednesdays to Sundays, Edinburgh Evening News reports. Ralston hit the headlines last year for being one of the first restaurateurs to implement a four-day working week. Staff at Noto will be offered the same benefit.

Lottery grant of £1.9m to help restore two Sunderland pubs: Two historic pubs in Sunderland are to get facelifts after the city council received £1.9m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The authority applied for the cash to support the Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme and has matched it with £300,000. It will support the wider regeneration of the city’s Minster Quarter. The first two priority building projects are the restoration of grade II-listed pubs The Peacock and Dun Cow, which was boosted by £380,000 from the Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme. The funding is being matched by the owners, Leighton Management, with a total investment of almost £800,000 across both sites. Kevin Johnston, the city council’s deputy cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said: “There’s a lot happening in the city centre with restoration, investment, improvements and new works. These two projects are all part of this big picture.”

Chef Alex Claridge announces departure from Birmingham restaurant: Chef Alex Claridge has announced his immediate departure from Nocturnal Animals, the Birmingham city centre bar and restaurant that opened in November. Claridge has decided to leave the venue in Bennetts Hill with immediate effect to focus on The Wilderness in the Jewellery Quarter. Claridge said: “Nocturnal Animals was an ambitious project in the city centre and there is much I am proud of. The bar in particular has done spectacularly well to achieve UK Top 50 recognition in such little time. I want to make it clear, I have nothing but gratitude to everyone involved in the project – staff and guests alike – and this decision is not one I have taken lightly. This has been a challenging project for a huge variety of reasons but, most importantly, I have spent the past nine months split between the two restaurants and this isn’t something I wish to continue. The business owners of Nocturnal Animals are obviously disappointed but respect my decision, for which I am grateful and, whatever they choose to do now I have left, I will do what I can to support any transition. I have always promised my family, work family and business partners The Wilderness and my happiness would be my priority no matter what, and the time is right for me to stay true to that. I intend to dedicate my time and attention to the restaurant I love so dearly and pursue only the constant goal of making The Wilderness the best restaurant it can be.”

Bar restaurant in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile acquired in off-market deal: The Royal McGregor bar and restaurant in the historic Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town has been purchased by private investors for an undisclosed sum. The Royal McGregor is close to Edinburgh Castle and is currently tenanted. It offers Scottish cuisine, local ale and a wide range of malt whisky. Tony Spence, business agent at Christie & Co’s Edinburgh office, who brokered the off-market sale, said: “The business is in a vibrant part of Edinburgh’s city centre – the Royal Mile is one of the most popular areas in the city for tourists. This investment presents an excellent opportunity for our clients.”  

Ei Publican Partnerships relaunches pub application hub: Ei Group’s leased and tenanted division Ei Publican Partnerships has revamped its online Applicant Channel for prospective publicans, becoming the first in the industry to digitalise the entire application process. The Applicant Channel is a digital search and application platform for those seeking a leased or tenanted pub business. Ei Publican Partnerships’ improved system will make the onboarding process “more streamlined and efficient”. Improvements to the platform include a more tailored experience for applicants including personal messages, reminders when information needs to be submitted and support via telephone or social media channels. One new feature enables applicants to “favourite” up to five pubs so they can compare their options in one place. More than two-thirds (68%) of the company’s prospective publican enquiries now originate from digital channels, compared with 22% in 2016, while Ei Publican Partnerships has partnered with FLOW Hospitality Training to launch digital training modules for applicants. Matthew Ralphs, group recruitment manager at Ei Group, said: “We want to continue to attract applicants by ensuring the process is as smooth and frictionless as possible and give them the support they need at their fingertips.”

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